Wado — The sneakers as sustainable as the ones made in the 80s ?
A lesson of bad eco-marketing and greenwashing.
Hey, have you seen the latest Kickstarter fundraising campaign for sustainable shoes ?
Seriously, they made me fall off my chair!
I have this professional (and personnal) quirk to analyze in detail all the footwear brands claiming to offer sustainable shoes, because from experience, the only truely sustainable shoes are bare feet. So, after reading Wado’s project description and seeing the amount of money they raised, I can only make an analysis for you and help you make your own opinion.
Ready ? Let’s start !
The important part : the materials
The body and interiors of the shoe are made out of “Bioleather”, which is chromium-free leather,[…]
Here it gets a bit tricky. They speak about bioleather, which normally means that it is made out of a bio-organism like plant or fruit skin, such as pineapple leather. But there are no more details about this, it can also be animal leather and called bioleather because it’s chromium free, who knows ?
In an exercise of innovation and sustainability we have managed to develop leathers without chromium. We use these on the outside and inside of our shoe.
I was a bit surprised to read this. I worked with chromium free leather in 2016 and I was able to find a patent for a chromium-free tanning process dating from 2015. If they had patented a new process or a new material, it would have been a great feat to mention in their project description.
Thus, your feet are in contact with a healthier material.
And this just after. They just told us that they were using chromium-free leather, what can be better than that ? Well maybe the fact that even a chromium free leather can still require up to 250 different chemicals during the manufacturing process. That being said, obviously if they use an inside lining in organic cotton for the shoe, it can be healthier.
Their supplier, local and ethical handmade shoes.
I can only support locally or regionally made products. It pushes local economy and creates jobs, all good here.
But using false information to create empathy and promote local production, not good. Let’s see!
Currently, 90% of the world footwear is produced in Asia.
Yes for the first sentence.
Most of the times workers are squeezed as if they were machines: precarious salaries, endless days and scarce security in their factories.
Yes and no for the second one. I worked for two years in Bangladesh and I have seen good factories, paying good money to their workers, strictly following legislation and standards for working hours. They are regularly being audited by buyers or third parties, from the working conditions to checking the full fire and building safety (see Accord Bangladesh). There are still some exceptions, but these exceptions do not include all the companies working with big fashion brands, which have started to have too much to lose if caught in violation of set standards for these issues.
Last, workers are also “squeezed as if they were machines” in Europe, due to low margins and the need to be more and more efficient, this is a worldwide problem.
In Bangladesh, fashion workers earn € 28 / month, half of what they need to cover their basic needs.
No for the third one. Why ? Firstly, the minimum salary in Bangladesh for a garments worker (see pdf page 16) is not 28 euros, but around 52 euros. I’m not saying garments employees have a good salary or should not get a raise, but I’m saying that the minimum salary is different and allows people to live. Plus, factories tend more and more to pay a higher wage than the minimum to retain their skilled employees. When we speak about salary in developing countries, we also need to put the cost of living into perspective. With 52 euros, I can’t do much in Europe, but in Bangladesh I can go quite far. A breakfast, two croissants and a coffee in France is around 4 euros, in Bangladesh it used to cost me 18 cents every morning.
Children and men often live on the floor of the factory where they work. Children also work in tanneries that seriously threaten their health and it is common that during the first years they do not receive any salary.
Yes and I am sure it happens in some factories in Bangladesh, but this is not accross the board. You can’t say things like that to trigger pity and raise money to sell your shoes. There are so many people working to avoid and stop these practises that making generalizations such as this, without cross-checking and putting forth clear supporting data, is insulting. It’s also an easy way to rally people (or customers) behind a problem that is much more difficult than we realize.
For each order made, a reusable 100% cotton bag will be added for free. This bag is perfect for daily use and match our “Play Green” values perfectly
We can question ourselves about the free cotton bag when buying a pair. Cotton doesn’t grow in Europe. Is it organic cotton ? Did they check the labour conditions of their suppliers, from raw material to final product ? Etc…
A bit more about the Wado’s vision
When we started Wado we only had one goal in mind: to make you effortlessly shift your lifestyle towards a more sustainable one. To help make that change, we offer you fashion products that you don’t pay more for… and what’s more important, that you don’t have to compromise on design!
How can we design sustainable fashion products at the same price point as conventional fashion products, without compromising on design quality, in a way that shifts consumers toward a more sustainable lifestyle?
Everything mentionned here should be the opposite. We, customers, should pay more to reach the real value of our shoes, which means the total cost of exploiting non-renewable resources. For example, in this case, there is a big chance that the outsole is made of natural rubber, a renewable resource, and synthetic rubber, derived from oil, so non-renewable. By the way, natural rubber principally comes from Asia and synthetic rubber comes from oil, so can be anywhere in the world (not very local as you can imagine). Plus, the reason we pay more should be to pay everyone fairly within the supply chain. Yes, even the Thaï dude in his forest harvesting the rubber. Furthermore, you and I should hope in a near future, to add the cost of emitting CO² in the atmosphere for transportation of those materials.
We realized that the sustainable fashion products that are currently traded in the market are much more expensive than non-sustainable ones and they do not follow fashion trends.
Guess what ? If they are more expensive it’s probably because they use better raw materials which need more care or specific harvesting method… or because if we embrace sustainability as a whole, it also means better social and working conditions. Those sustainable fashion brands might pay the factory workers a bit more, for example.
Finally, if they do not follow fashion trends (I don’t know much about fashion trends to be honest), it can be because the materials they use in their products are really sustainable, which means biodegradable or recyclable (and most of the time ugly), which is not the case of chromium-free leather used for their shoes.
Conclusion of the analysis
They want to use local production and plant trees in India, this is great and I can’t find anything to say about that. I wish more companies would do that, but I also wish that footwear companies, the old ones and the new ones like Wado, will really tackle the main issues with footwear products, not deforestation.
Creating a zero waste shoe, from raw material to the product end of life
Insuring the shoe to be coherent with circular economy principles
I will try to write down a couple of steps to make a sustainable footwear brand :
Firstly, we should promote frugality in the brand communication. Knowing that materials used in footwear products can come from polluting and non-renewable resources like oil, it should push us to tell our customers to only buy them if they really need them. It’s like cigarettes, tell your customers that it harms the environment and the people they don’t know.
Secondly, we should design the shoe but also optimize our value chain, keeping in mind the fact that today we are not capable of recycling shoes. 25 billion pairs of shoes are sold in the world every year, and a majority of them end up in landfills or in incinerators. This should push us to use/invent biodegradable materials or design a shoe that can be disassembled for recycling. Furthermore, taking the responsibility for the end of life of our products is key to the future.
Thirdly, to use the word “Sustainable” with great care. Sustainable from definition means “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”. If we all decide to buy Wado shoes made with this design in Portugal, we will still have a negative impact, environmentally and socially speaking.
Lastly, but this should come first, we must be transparent. We can’t mislead customers just because they cannot cross check information or understand technical process behind the product.
I strongly believe that transparency is our biggest challenge. This is also the reason why I am writing this very very very long article. I hope it gives you an insight on how brands can trick your mind and your credit card.
I invite Wado :
- to respond to this analysis, I’ll be more than happy to publish their remarks in total transparency
- to rethink and change the vocabulary they used in their project description
- to assesss the environmental impacts of their project through a full life cycle assessment and make it available to their customers in a clear and transparent way
- to publish the latest audits realized at the factory where they produce the shoes